UFC 218: Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar Early Main Card Preview and Predictions

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2017

UFC 218: Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar Early Main Card Preview and Predictions

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    Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    There was a lot of sizzle to UFC 217, but boy does UFC 218 have a lot of steak to it. While it doesn't take place in glitzy New York, New York, or own a glamorous main event, Detroit's UFC 218 is a white-hot card with a slew of compelling fights from top to bottom.

    Here's a look at the matchups to expect:

    Main Card (Pay-Per-View)

    • Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar
    • Alistair Overeem vs. Francis Ngannou
    • Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis
    • Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje
    • Tecia Torres vs. Michelle Waterson

    Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, UFC Fight Pass)

    • Alex Oliveira vs. Yancy Medeiros
    • David Teymur vs. Drakkar Klose
    • Felice Herrig vs. Cortney Casey
    • Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Sabah Homasi
    • Jeremy Kimball vs. Dominick Reyes
    • Amanda Cooper vs. Angela Magana
    • Justin Willis vs. Allen Crowder

    Bleacher Report is here to give an early look at the event and discuss the stories and stakes of the biggest fights on the card.

Tecia Torres vs. Michelle Waterson

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    WME-IMG was smitten with Michelle Waterson and gave her a good push...so naturally, she lost her next fight.
    WME-IMG was smitten with Michelle Waterson and gave her a good push...so naturally, she lost her next fight.Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Division: Strawweight

    Records: Tecia Torres (9-1), Michelle Waterson (14-5)

    When Michelle Waterson made quick work of Paige VanZant last year, WME-IMG (now Endeavor) was smitten with the Karate Hottie. Right then and there, the new UFC ownership hitched its proverbial wagon to Waterson and gave her the kind of push usually reserved for established stars.

    Then Waterson showed why that kind of push is usually reserved for the established stars. 

    In a contest that was supposed to be her coming-out party as one of the UFC's new stars, Waterson was thrashed by former title contender Rose Namajunas.

    Just like that, she went from a career high-point to rebuilding mode, and just like that, the company seems to have lost interest. While a popular fighter coming off a rough loss usually calls for a "rebound" fight, the UFC seems ready to use Waterson as a stepping stone for a likely future title contender in Tecia Torres.

    Despite struggling to attract fans, Torres has been a steady presence near the top of the strawweight division since her days in Invicta FC. She owns a 9-1 career record, almost exclusively against solid competition, and would be in strong position to get a rubber match with newly minted UFC champion Namajunas with one more win.

    It's a deft move by the company, but bad news for Waterson. Torres' non-stop clinchwork is a challenge for any fighter, but it is particularly troublesome for the striking-focused Waterson. While this is far from a slam dunk, expect Torres to scrape out a win on the scorecards.

    Prediction: Tecia Torres def. Michelle Waterson by Unanimous Decision

Eddie Alvarez vs. Justin Gaethje

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    After enjoying incredible success outside the UFC, Gaethje didn't disappoint in his Octagon debut.
    After enjoying incredible success outside the UFC, Gaethje didn't disappoint in his Octagon debut.Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Division: Lightweight

    Records: Eddie Alvarez (28-5), Justin Gaethje (18-0)

    Justin Gaethje wants to be the new Eddie Alvarez. 

    Long viewed as the best fighter in World Series of Fighting (now the PFL), the former NCAA Division I All-American became a fan favorite for his relentless, hyper-violent attack.

    Whether Gaethje was facing an overmatched regional-level fighter or an established veteran, every bout was a whirlwind of fists and feet. His inability (or unwillingness) to comfortably wrangle weaker opposition raised questions about whether he could have success in the UFC, but he silenced those doubts when he debuted with an impressive win over Michael Johnson.

    The win caught the eyes of fans and fighters alike and quickly established Gaethje as one of the most buzzworthy fighters in the sport. It's a rare brand of success, and it's a path recently walked by Alvarez. 

    While his devastating loss to Conor McGregor was Alvarez's introduction to many fans, a few short years ago, he was the Underground King of MMA. Beloved by hardcore fans for his penchant for delivering action-packed bouts, Alvarez made his way to the UFC after years of fighting in other promotions.

    Despite suffering early hardship with tough losses and narrow victories, he captured the lightweight title by defeating Rafael dos Anjos via dramatic first-round knockout.

    With Gaethje on the rise and Alvarez looking to regain his footing, it's only fitting that these two face off with everything on the line. 

    This will likely be a heated contest, with the result hinging on Alvarez's physical state. Though he isn't especially old, Alvarez has been through countless wars in the cage and is on the wrong side of 30. He likely isn't done quite yet, but everything on paper favors the younger, fresher Gaethje.

    Prediction: Justin Gaethje def. Eddie Alvarez by TKO in Round 3

Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis

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    After falling apart at UFC 211, the Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis bout is coming together again with even higher stakes.
    After falling apart at UFC 211, the Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis bout is coming together again with even higher stakes.Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Division: Flyweight

    Records: Henry Cejudo (11-2), Sergio Pettis (16-2)

    Anyone that laments the lack of talent in the flyweight division hasn't been paying close enough attention, because the rises of Henry Cejudo and Sergio Pettis has left little to be desired.

    From a pedigree perspective, few fighters can match Cejudo. An Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling, he became the hottest prospect in MMA as soon as he hung up his singlet.

    He lived up to his potential by working his way to a UFC title fight in just three years' time, and while he came up short, he has demonstrated noticeable improvements in his game since, to the point where he is once again a compelling contender.

    Pettis' rise hasn't been quite as smooth. Entering the UFC as RFA champion and a hot prospect in his own right, he struggled out of the gate with a less-than-impressive 3-2 start to his UFC career.

    A handy win over former contender Chris Cariaso, however, showed that he really was as good as everyone expected, and from there, he amassed a four-fight winning streak over stiff competition.

    On its own merits, this would be an amazing contest between two hot talents, but with the added stakes of a likely shot at flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson going to the winner, it becomes a must-watch affair. 

    The odds are in Cejudo's favor, given his recent strides in the striking department and his gold medal in wrestling speaking for itself in the grappling department. Don't completely count out Pettis, though.

    Prediction: Henry Cejudo def. Sergio Pettis via Unanimous Decision

Alistair Overeem vs. Francis Ngannou

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    Francis Ngannou is one of the few up-and-coming talents in heavyweight MMA.
    Francis Ngannou is one of the few up-and-coming talents in heavyweight MMA.FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

    Division: Heavyweight

    Records: Alistair Overeem (43-15), Francis Ngannou (10-1)

    MMA's heavyweight division is truly terrible. The UFC's minuscule payouts make it difficult to woo competitors away from sports that have multi-million-dollar guarantees, and most of the game's greatest athletes have been aged hand-me-downs from the NFL.

    There are multiple quadragenarians hanging around at the top simply because nobody else has shown up to take their spot, and that has made the division generally uninteresting both from an entertainment and sporting perspective.

    Enter Francis Ngannou.

    6'4". 254 pounds. 31 years old. 10-1 record. The gargantuan Frenchman has been a breath of fresh air in the most stagnant division, and at UFC 218, he will have the chance to take the wind out of the sails of one of the aging stars of yesteryear in December. 

    Alistair Overeem, however, isn't just any one of those aging stars.

    While many of the enduring names at the top of the division have lost a step over the years, Overeem has re-established his elite status by transforming both technically and physically.

    One of the division's few dual threats, he owns top-notch kickboxing skills and an excellent guillotine choke. Though he lost to Stipe Miocic in a title bout last year, he has rebounded in a big way with back-to-back wins over Fabricio Werdum and Mark Hunt.

    This is a rare sort of fight in heavyweight MMA, and it's one that should deliver on high expectations. Overeem is the safer bet simply based on his body of work, but there's plenty of reason to believe that this is Ngannou's moment.

    Prediction: Alistair Overeem def. Francis Ngannou by Unanimous Decision

Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar

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    Frankie Edgar is looking to rain on the Max Holloway parade.
    Frankie Edgar is looking to rain on the Max Holloway parade.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Division: Featherweight

    Records: Max Holloway (18-3), Frankie Edgar (22-5-1)

    Max Holloway's rise to the top was a slow one, but when he finally reached that point, he left a path of destruction few could match.

    The logjam at the top of the featherweight division in 2015 left the Hawaiian with little direction in his career, taking fight after fight that served no true purpose other than allowing him to keep his spot. 

    From hot prospects, to enduring veterans, to former champions, he was pitted against opponents of all sorts, with the only constant being that each fight ended with a convincing victory.

    He was on a 10-fight winning streak by the time he was given a true title shot opposite Jose Aldo, and when he thrashed the longtime great in order to capture gold, there were few potential challengers that hadn't already served as stepping stones on his path to the top.

    One of those few is Frankie Edgar.

    The former lightweight champion has been a steady presence near the top of the featherweight division since  joining the fray in 2013, and over those years, his path just happened to run parallel to Holloway's.

    Despite being at an advanced phase of his career, Edgar has retained the quickness and diverse arsenal that once earned him the title and remains a tough challenge for anyone he faces. At 36 years old, however, the clock is ticking on his career, and though he may stick around for a while longer, this is likely his last opportunity to reclaim UFC gold.

    The UFC, and most fans and pundits, are looking at this as a sort of "passing of the torch" affair, with the expectation being a mugging in favor of the bigger, younger, hungrier Holloway.

    That's justifiable, but it's hard to ever completely dismiss Edgar. There's a narrow window for him in the early goings of the fight to surprise Holloway with level changes and takedowns, potentially scoring enough points in the opening rounds to keep things tight as the bout goes on. That window will shut quickly, however, and if Edgar can't strike while the iron is hot, expect Holloway to run away with this.

    Prediction: Max Holloway def. Frankie Edgar by TKO in Round 4